Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Real High Tea Challenge: Tea transformed

I have a family connection with Sri Lanka's tea trade. In the 1910s, my birth mother's father was the manager of a tea estate in what was then Ceylon. After the first world war he and my grandmother Kathleen, who lived in Tewkesbury, began writing to each other. He visited her in England and they became engaged. Then she sailed out to Colombo, married him on the dockside and went up to the estate with him. My mother was born there in 1920. She used to feed buns to the working elephants from her nursery window.
         I grew up drinking the usual strong, milky New Zealand tea, but I took to drinking mine black and lightly brewed when I was living in Albania.  Back in New Zealand, I was delighted when, in 1988, the new firm of Dilmah chose New Zealand as its test market for its single origin, unblended, ethically produced teas. I've been happily drinking their range ever since.
          To raise the profile of fine tea, in 2007 they came up with the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge, involving 27 of Sri Lanka's top culinary teams. Then they broadened it out to become a Global Challenge, inviting teams around the world to reinvent the traditional high tea for the 21st century.
In 2013 Wellington’s Museum Art Hotel beat 13 other teams to win the first New Zealand round. This July they went to Sri Lanka for the grand final, involving 21 teams (with 710 people) from 15 countries.
Leading the Museum Art Hotel team were Hippopotamus Restaurant's head chef Laurent Loudeac and maitre d’ Camille Furminieux. “When we won in 2013 the final seemed a long way off”, said Camille, “and this March the chef got married – so we started working on our entry in April!” 
In Sri Lanka they had two days to prepare, and on 1 July they had half an hour to set up and just 35 minutes to serve the entire menu to the four judges (including our own Simon Gault). When I asked Laurent if there were any crises, he frowned slightly and said no, of course not. 
On the day, their execution was flawless. But watching the spectacular effects some other teams came up with, they thought they had no hope of winning.  They were wrong.
Their clearly focused theme was the meeting of the five senses, all of them involved in tea tasting. It was shown off perfectly by their elegant French degustation-inspired menu of three savoury and three sweet courses. Created from fine New Zealand ingredients with tea-derived enhancements, and paired throughout with stunning teas or tea-based drinks, it won them the supreme award.

On 18 August they recreated their winning entry for 50 lucky people at Hippopotamus, and I was there on behalf of the New Zealand Guild of Food Writers. From the duck tortellini in Ceylon ginger, honey and mint tea broth to the crêpes Suzette with mulled Medda Watte tea, it was the most exquisite sequence of food and drink I’ve ever experienced. 

Here's the menu:
Silver Jubilee Ceylon Ginger, Honey and Mint tea consommé
          Confit duck leg tortellini
Palate cleanser: Silver Jubilee Aromatic Earl Grey tea
Vivid Gentle Minty Green Lady cocktail
          Clevedon buffalo milk feta espuma, macadamia nougatine and fresh cucumber
Ran Watte Single Region Ceylon tea
          Ora King Salmon sashimi "my way"
Silver Jubilee Ceylon tea
          Strawberry mille-feuille and tea syrup
Media Watte Single Region Ceylon mulled tea
          Poire Belle-Hélène
Silver Jubilee Almond-infused Ceylon Pekoe Digestive tea
          Traditional crêpe Suzette
You can see all the recipes here

If I had to choose a favourite course, it would be the beautifully airy, smooth feta espuma (created with a siphon), with its contrasting tiny shards of crunchy nougatine and cucumber curls, its richness offset by the one true cocktail they served - the Vivid Gentle Green Lady, made from Lighthouse gin, Gentle Minty Green tea, fresh mint leaves, cucumber and a dash of Ch’i water. Tea will never be the same...

Proceeds from the Wellington event went to the new culinary training school for young underprivileged Sri Lankans. Funded by Dilmah’s MTF Foundation, it was opened by Simon Gault and other chefs on 5 July. Back home, at the Hospice Vintners' Brunch, a trip for two to Wellington to stay at the hotel and attend the High Tea was put up for auction and raised $2300 for Hospice.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A tribute and a second Spanish helping

I was very sad to read an obituary for Pat Churchill in last weekend's Dominion Post.  Not only was she a pioneering woman journalist and features editor, she was also a terrific cook who made an extra career out of food writing.
       One of the most popular posts on this blog is the one featuring her recipe for mandarin muffins. I'll make them this week in memory of her.

A fortnight ago I promised to post two more tapas recipes. So here they are, only a week-and-a-bit late (trying to learn a bit more Spanish got in the way - disculpe!).

Alubias con almejas - white haricot beans with clams
(From Claudia Roden, The Food of Spain, A Celebration)

650g fresh clams  (I got mine at Moore Wilson, where they're only around $13 a kg)
3 Tbsps olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 500g tin or jar small white haricot beans, drained
125 ml fruity white wine or cava
2 Tbsps chopped flat-leaf parsley

Wash the clams and discard any that are not closed. Soak them in cold salted water for 1 hour to make sure they release any sand. (I didn't do this and no harm was done)
Heat the oil in a wide casserole or pan with a tight-fitting lid. Put in the onion and stir over a low heat until it becomes very soft and is starting to colour. Add the garlic and stir for another minute or two. 
Add the beans, white wine and a little salt. Mix gently and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Place the clams on top, put the lid on, and cook over medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes until the clams open. Throw away any that stay closed.
Serve sprinkled with the parsley and a bowl for the shells. 

I couldn't find the haricot beans, so I used cannellini instead. They tasted fine. The whole dish is quite subtle and the flavour of the clams really comes through.  
        Finally, here are Ali's delicious meatballs. It's a Rick Stein recipe, but as she often finds with his recipes, she said she had to tweak it. To make the sauce work, she left out the recommended 200 ml of chicken stock and halved the amount of sherry from his 200 ml, as well as going lighter on the salt, given the salty prosciutto.

Albóndigas en salsa tomate - meatballs in a tomato and sherry sauce
(Based on a recipe by Rick Stein)

For the meatballs
50g crustless white bread
Finely grated zest and juice of one lemon
150g thinly sliced Serrano ham (or use prosciutto)
350g lean minced pork
350g minced veal or chicken (Ali used free-range)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
50g pitted green olives, finely chopped
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1/4 tsp smoked hot Spanish paprika
1 tsp salt
Black pepper
4 Tbsps olive oil for frying

:Break the bread into a small bowl and sprinkle with the lemon juice and 1 Tbsp water. Leave to soak for 5 minutes.
Drop the ham or prosciutto into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
Into a large bowl put the soaked bread, minced pork and minced chicken, ham, garlic, olives, parsley, lemon zest, paprika, salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Mix together well with your hands, then fry a little piece of the mixture and taste it, adjusting seasonings if needed.
Shape the mixture into about 60 small tapas-sized balls.
In a large frypan, heat the oil and fry half the meatballs for 2-3 minutes, shaking the pan to get them nicely browned all over. Repeat with the second batch.

For the sauce
3 Tbsps olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika (sweet or hot)
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
100 ml fino (dry) sherry, or 200ml dry white wine
2 fresh bay leaves
Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a frypan, add the onion, garlic and paprika, and fry gently for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sherry or wine, bay leaves and salt, and simmer for 15 minutes or until the sauce has reduced and thickened.

Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer for 5 minutes until cooked through. Remove the bay leaves. Serve the meatballs and sauce in shallow bowls with toothpicks alongside.        

As there were only three of us, we helped ourselves form a larger bowl. The flavour was delicious, very rich and intense and satisfying. Olé!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Home made Spain

One of the events I look forward to most in my food year is the Mid-Winter Birthdays.  My friends Ali and Lynn have their birthdays close together in July, and we always come up with a food-themed celebration.  This year, because I'm off to Spain later on and Ali had given me Claudia Roden's The Food of Spain for my birthday, we had a Spanish theme. Each of us made three tapas dishes, from various recipe books, and I made a very light dessert as well. Between us we did make rather a lot of food, of course, but that didn't matter - our families were very happy to gobble up the leftovers. And the array of different dishes, almost all of them completely new to us, was splendid (even though we could eat only a little of each one, and the helpings had to get progressively smaller towards the end).
       The way we arranged them worked very well too. We paced ourselves - including some on-the-spot cooking and a break for presents, it took us four hours. Maravillosa!

First we had a big platter of cold tapas, with Ali's home-made bread:
Champiňones marinados - marinated mushrooms
Tortillitas de camarones - prawn and chickpea flour fritters, with lemon wedges
Spanish olives, artichoke hearts, goat's cheese (La Marche Buche Ziekli) and Serrano Montenevado ham aged for 18 months (the cheese and ham came from On Trays, in Petone)

The marinated mushrooms were very easy to make, and different from the usual recipes because you cook them first.  I made them again in the weekend as a dinner starter.

Champiňones marinados
(Claudia Roden)
This needs to be made at least 5 hours before eating.

juice of 1 large lemon
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
5 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil (I used a good Australian one with "robust flavour")
salt and pepper
500g button mushrooms (evenly sized, so they will cut evenly into quarters)
2 Tbsps chopped flat-leaf parsley (But I forgot to add this!)

Make a dressing with the lemon juice, zest, oil and some salt and pepper.
Wipe the mushrooms and rinse them briefly, if necessary (it wasn't). Trim the stems and cut them into quarters (or halves if they're very small).
Cook them over medium heat in a wide, dry, non-stick frypan for 10 minutes, turning them over until they release their juices, which will evaporate. (They will shrink quite a lot.)
Put the hot mushrooms into the lemon dressing in a wide, shallow bowl, mixing them well. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate for 5 hours at least. Take out ahead of time so that they are served at room temperature. Sprinkle the parsley over to serve.

For our second helping, we served two dishes:
Empanada de hojaldre con atún - tuna pie
Habas con jamón - broad beans with garlic, mint and ham (although because we had two other things with ham, Ali left it out for this one)

The pie filling is delicious but really easy to make, and as it uses canned tuna, it isn't expensive. With salad and bread, it would make an excellent lunch or light dinner. Roden's recipe tells you how to make olive oil pastry, but because I was cooking four things in advance I was a bit short of time, so I made her suggested alternative with good butter puff pastry. The edges did get a bit thick and untidy, but I solved that by cutting them off and taking one big neat square for lunch. My son happily ate up all the edges, which had plenty of the tuna filling embedded in them. I'll try the oil pastry later, and report back.

Empanada de hojaldre con atún
(Claudia Roden)

Enough butter puff pastry to line and cover a square or oblong dish about 3 cm deep, preferably with a rim (the shape gives neater slices than a round pie dish)
1 egg, separated (for brushing and sealing later)

Thaw the pastry and set the oven to 200C bake.
Line the bottom and sides of the dish with baking paper.
Set aside enough pastry to cover the pie. Roll out the rest to cover the bottom and sides of the dish on top of the baking paper.
Place the lined dish in the fridge for 30 minutes. Roll out the rest in a shape to fit the top, and place it on bake paper on a flat sheet in the fridge.

For the filling:
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 large red pepper, deseeded and cut into small pieces
2 Tbsps olive oil
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1 450g tin of tuna in oil, drained and flaked
20 black olives, pitted and cut into pieces
2 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped

Fry the onion and pepper in the oil in a large pan over low heat, stirring often, till soft.
Add the tomatoes, sugar and a little salt (the olives add salt too). Cook over a medium heat for about 15 minutes until the sauce is thick and jammy.
Remove from the heat and stir in the tuna, olive pieces and chopped eggs. Set aside to cool.

Take out the lined dish, prick the base of the pastry, brush with the egg white and blind-bake in the oven for 5 minutes. (If the bottom still puffs up, just prick it slightly again to flatten it a bit.)
Beat the yolk with the rest of the white and 1 Tbsp water, and set aside to make an egg wash for the top.
Turn the oven down to 180C. Fill the pie with the tuna mixture, spreading it evenly, and cover with pastry, using some of the egg wash to seal the top on. Brush the top with egg wash.
Bake the pie in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until top is golden brown.
Cool a little before slicing into squares, or set aside and warm it through later before cutting and serving.

Next we had alubias con almejas - clams with haricot beans. The clams came from Moore Wilson, but I couldn't find a tin of haricot beans, so I used cannellini instead and that seemed to work well. It was followed by Lynn's classic tortilla de patates - potato omelette, and Ali's albóndigas en salsa tomate - pork, chicken and ham meatballs in a tomato and sherry sauce, a Rick Stein recipe; then garbanzos con chorizo, chickpeas with chorizo sausage (made by the Eastbourne butcher) and pimientos asados, grilled red peppers with garlic and sherry vinegar.
        But so as not to overdo this post, I'll put up the recipes for the clams and the meatballs next week.  Then I'll do marquesas, the light, lemony little cakes I made for dessert. We had just enough room left to eat one each with our coffee.